Wednesday, 27 December 2017

One Day, Far Away...

Apparently, on this particular date (when the photos below were taken) a lot of people all over the planet suddenly think that they want to see snow everywhere. Actually, in a surprisingly large area of Greece they regularly do get snow, sometimes very thick snow, at this time of the year. Not though, here in the southern Dodecanese.

Quite a few people who read this blog tell me that they feel like my posts are a sort of 'taste' of either a) Greece (for those who come here for their vacations), or b) home (for those Greeks who live in far flung parts of the planet as part of the 'diaspora') during the long winter months, and so, as me and the beloved sat out in the garden on what's known worldwide as "Christmas Day", we expressed thanks and appreciation for the gorgeous weather here in Kiotari.

Then I ran inside, got the iPad and took the following photos. Gloat? Moi? (I do tend to use that pseudo-Miss Piggie French expression rather a lot these days, apologies for that). Anyway, here is our garden at around 3.30pm on December 25th 2017...

And here's a little video shot from that very pallet-bench above (If for any reason you can't get it to play, it's on youtube too)...

In over twelve years of living here now, we have actually seen snow once. Yes, folks it did snow in Kiotari about four or five winters ago, for about 45 seconds. Then it was gone. We do occasionally get what could accurately be described as 'cold' weather here,  but to be honest, as I always am of course, that's rare.

So I hope you now feel ever-so-slightly warmed by my photos. You know me - anything for my readers!!

(I am aware of the fact that sometimes my humour [OK, attempt at humour] isn't understood. There are those that interpret it as looking like I really do think a lot of myself. Hopefully, most realise that all it is, is a little attempt at raising a smile. I can assure you, if it's of any interest anyway, that I am well and truly aware of my own failings and limitations. After all, I have a wife!! Now go on, tell me you don't understand that one too!!! Of course she's going to kill me when she reads this. Hello sweetie, I love you. [feeble attempt at a smile])

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Lindos Stroll

Well, what about this folks, two posts in as many days. I'm slipping.

Today it was a little cooler out of the sun, with the temperature in Lindos around midday standing at 16.5ºC. We decided that our walk today should be somewhere other than the usual routes we take from the house and, since we had to go and see someone in Vlicha, we went to Lindos afterwards for a decent brisk walk around the village.

We parked the car up in Krana, in the area usually jam-packed with coaches during the season. Today there was just one orange bus parked up there with its side doors open, while the driver took a snooze before beginning his run back up to town. 

From Krana we walked down the middle of the road, without a single vehicle coming down to make us step to one side until we were right on the edge of the square. From there we went into the village, left and down past the Sunburnt Arms and then out past the Melenos Hotel and the junior school to the headland where the amazing Lindos Vigli villa is situated. We stood right behind the villa's garden and took a couple of shots.

Not many summer visitors get to see the main beach like this, eh?

Of course, old Kleoboulos' tomb is visible in this one, out there on the headland.

...and in this one.

Taking a view across the beautiful garden surrounding the 'tucked away' Lindos Vigli villa.

Same as above. That's Haraki and Feraklos Castle at the far end of the further section of sea, which is Kalathos Bay of course.
From here we cut back around behind the school and the Melenos Hotel and threaded our way across the top of the village to David Gilmour's house and the old amphitheatre. Just below the Gatto Bianco restaurant there is a cut-through up some steep steps, bringing you to the Police Station, then on up past Angustino's restaurant to the Atmosphere Bar and Lindos Reception. From there, of course it's a simple stroll along the pavement (sidewalk, one has to be so careful!) past the Lindos View and back down to the car at Krana Square.

The whole walk took us about forty minutes and we barely saw a soul! There were, of course, a few 'sound effects' now and then from people drilling and banging and sawing, the kinds of noises one hears frequently during the off-season while various maintenance jobs get done around the village.

All in all an enjoyable walk in amazingly beautiful surroundings. When we got home it was 20ºC on the terrace and so a couple of cheese, onion and salad rolls with a glass of chilled Retsina were soon being consumed al fresco for lunch.

If it's any consolation to readers in northern Europe, we are expecting some colder weather over the holiday weekend. Best I can do I'm afraid folks!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Sleeping Arrangements

In the culture that my wife and I come from, we're all very precious about who sleeps where and if we've got enough room when family come to visit and possibly stay over. It seems to me though, that we as British folk could take a leaf out of the Greeks' book in this regard.

Of course, climate plays a huge part in what we do for our holidays and I'd say (and I could be wrong, of course) that the most popular holiday (vacation if you're from that side of the pond) for British people is the sun, sand and ... well, let's just say hot weather, beach or pool-type thing, right?

Here, it's rather different because of several reasons, of which here are two:
1. Lots of Greeks of working age can't go on holiday/vacation during the summer because they're too busy working and...
2. They have so much sunshine and hot weather here anyway that it's no big deal going looking for such things when it's time for a break.

So, what do most Greeks do for a break? Well, most of those we know go during the winter time and they usually go visit relatives, either elsewhere in Greece or in some far-flung part of the planet like the USA, the UK, Germany or Australia and they can do this because there aren't many families here who don't have relatives in those countries.

They, of course don't need a sun-cream, towels and swimwear break, they just need a change of scenery.

In all my years back in my home country, before moving out here in 2005, we'd visit relatives from time to time and, if the distance from home warranted it, we'd stay over a while. This was all done with military precision and everyone was provided a bed in some way or another. I still have vivid memories of sleeping on camp beds as a lad, like this one that's still produced to the old army design and is available in the UK from Halfords...

Ah, those happy moments spent flexing those rigid, slightly springy metal legs so that you could slot them into their holders attached to the frame, that itself had been slotted together first. Those were the days. My parents had a few of these, but ours were from the Army and Navy store and were the original military ones, made from very tough khaki material. When you're ten years old and assigned the construction of the camp beds as evening draws on, you take this job seriously, even though it takes every last fibre of your strength to get those legs into place.

This was done because everyone had to have a bed of some sort and, if there wasn't enough room for a civilised arrangement, then some would have to bite the bullet and go stay at a nearby bed and breakfast.

Having now been on family visits in Crete and elsewhere with some of our Greek friends who live here on Rhodes I can say that they don't worry about all that civilised stuff and no one gives a toss about how many bodies bed down for the night, despite how small the house or apartment of the hosts may be. It's a given that if you have family coming, you put them up, regardless of how many males, females and kids will be arriving or of how many nights they may plan to stay. They won't ask either; like - you know, ring up beforehand and say, "Is it OK if your brother, his wife and two kids and the grandparents, plus aunty Tassia drop by the day after tomorrow and stay for a week?"

Oh, no, it'll be a case of them telling you they're coming and you making the best of it. It may mean you'll have bodies on the sofa, the bathroom floor or the balcony, it really doesn't matter, if they're family you just do it. It's expected of you.

Here where we live, the better half and I, we have a fairly spacious lounge-kitchen-dining room, plus a double bedroom and a bathroom. that's it. Oh, and my office, which isn't large enough for even a midget to lay down in anyway (no offence, please! Just illustrating the point). Thus if we have even just two people to stay, it'll usually mean we sleep on our settee, which granted does pull out into a double bed, and the guests sleep in our bedroom. So as far as we're concerned, two people is the limit, and even then quite a few friends who've been out to visit have chosen to take a package and stay nearby in the accommodation provided by the tour operator, so as to each have the privacy they'd prefer. But, see, if we were Greeks it would be entirely different.

We've been to stay with some good friends in Irapetra, Crete, who have a two bedroom apartment, and we've used their spare room. I also went there once with a bunch of other chaps and we dossed down all over the place. I particularly remember being kept awake by Giorgos, who could have snored for Greece, plus the fact that I had to step over a number of bodies to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

That just won't do for us Brits, will it?

Yet that couple in Crete, they often host their family from Rhodes with precious little advance warning, for a week at a time, which consists of the husband's parents, his sister, her husband and their four daughters and even then the occasional extra single cousin thrown in for good measure. And Greeks never complain about this, they all do it because it's what the Greeks do. What is all this fuss about civilised sleeping arrangements anyway? Surely, they must think, surely if you have enough room to get yourself horizontal without someone else's toe getting in your eye, then that's fine and dandy isn't it?

Now, it horrifies us to imagine people staying here with us and the disruption it causes to our nice, orderly routine, but if we were Greeks we'd already have had an average of ten guests per winter for the past decade or so, of that I have no doubt. 

And when it comes to the food, I've yet to go to a Greek house for hospitality, whether it involves an overnight stay or simply a get-together, where the women didn't all break out the tapsis and the katsaroles and cook fresh food by the ton. In the UK you can lay on a spread entirely from supermarket pre-packed stuff. It's not only an environmental nightmare when you consider the sheer volume of plastic and cardboard that went into getting the stuff home, it's not all that good for you either. You know what I mean, turn up at a party and there will be the usual pineapple chunks on a stick with a similarly sized cube of cheese, there will be store-bought sausage rolls and I've even been to get-togethers in the UK in recent years where they didn't bother to break the dips out of the plastic tubs they came in, they just peel back the cellophane seal and throw a teaspoon into it. There will be store-bought pickle and maybe also pickled onions, plus crisps, mayonnaise ...I could go on.

Just last week we went to a gathering of maybe 30 people in a village nearby, in honour of a daughter who hasn't been back here from Canada in many years, and the table groaned with really healthy, home-cooked delights. There were chunks of meat in huge saucepans (OK, so we passed on them, but it's organically produced local meat from local butchers), there were several bowls of different kinds of fresh salad from the garden, delicious oven-baked potatoes done with lemon and herbs, dolmades, pasta, grilled fish (entire, you just hook one off the dish by its tail and set to work on it), stuffed mushrooms with shrimp, freshly baked bread, locally produced olives, plus a huge pan of gigantes (big butter beans in tomato and onion sauce with herbs) and more stuff I can't remember now. The memorable thing was though, three or four of the women in the house had spent the whole day cooking it all from fresh. There wasn't a package, box or plastic container in sight.

You know, after I'd eaten my share and downed a couple of beers and a glass of water or three, I was ready for bed.

Well, OK, maybe a patch of carpet near the fire would do. Just as long as no one's toe ended up in my eye...

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Reluctant Itinerants

Glystra Beach, December 12th 2017, around 1.30pm

I like to keep things light. Anyone who reads my stuff on a regular basis will know that. I would never, though, describe myself as frivolous. Regarding how others would describe me, well, there's not much I can do about that anyway and I don't much worry about it, as long as my integrity and honesty and, dare I say, humility, hopefully would influence what they'd say. OK, OK, it's hard to be humble when you're doing all the talking, but there it is. I do my best.

Today we walked to Glystra Beach and took a dip. We usually do it at least once during a winter and we know that the walk takes us about an hour each way. It's beautiful there in the winter. It's a perfect sandy beach and today, as we'd hoped and expected, we had the place entirely to ourselves. Oddly, it was this visit to such a beautiful place with the temperature around 20ºC that got me thinking about some sad news we had just this week from some Albanian friends that we've known for at least four or five years. We're not counting, but it must be at least four anyway.

My better half and I moved out here after evaluating our financial situation and deciding that, if we were careful, we could make a go of it and not be too stretched financially. Thus we were willing migrants who could also, if we wanted to, return to our home country at any time.

Of course, the news has been full of the stories of so many migrants fleeing wars and those who survive arriving on European shores in the last few years and it so makes our hearts heavy when we see what is happening to them. But I don't think many of us give much thought to the Albanians, and why should we, by and large? We don't really hear about them and, certainly in places like the UK, they're not news at all. People there would probably be hard put to even say where Albania is, apart from one of my favourite writers and comedians, Tony Hawks, of course. Check out his brilliantly funny book "One Hit Wonderland" and you'll see what I mean.

So I'd like to talk for a while about just how this family of Albanians that we know and indeed love, have made me become very meditative this past day or two since we learned that they're on the move again, this time to Dortmund in Germany.

Greece is full of Albanians, that's a fact. There is quite a sizeable population of them in Italy too, but I suspect that most of those who've left their homeland have ended up here in Greece, at least for a while. In 1990 the population there was around 3.25 million, so it's a small country. Consider, for example that the population of London currently stands at around 8.6 million. Albania's an even smaller country now though, because over a quarter of a million have left their motherland since then and the current population stands at something near 2.9 million.

We've been on Rhodes for twelve years and in that time have made quite a few friends with people who were born and raised in Albania. By and large they are hardworking, friendly and family-oriented people who get the short straw when it comes to how they're treated by the Greeks. Often when something 'happens', like a robbery or a drug arrest, people here will often immediately assume that the perpetrator must be Albanian, even though statistics show that this simply isn't any more likely than it being a Greek. By far the majority of them living here make do with substandard accommodation, work long hours in the tourist industry for a pittance and yet greet you nevertheless with a smile. I have first-hand experience of how many Greek employers talk to their Albanian workers and it's not pleasant.

I'm not trying to tar everyone with the same brush. I should add that I also know many Greeks who value their Albanian workers and treat them well. I'd be very remiss not to refer here to one of our favourite tavernas, Savvas Grill in nearby Lardos village. There are two young Albanian women who've been working in the kitchen there for well over a decade and they, I know, are very good workers, much appreciated by their employers, Savvas himself and his wife, who works along with them in the kitchen.

The fact is, though, that the family I'm referring to are far from being an exception when it comes to living as reluctant itinerants. The family consists of dad, mum, two teenage girls and a son of about eleven. They may have been on Rhodes for about five years, but prior to that they lived in Crete for many years too. Why do they move? The simple answer is to find work. A sizeable number of Albanians, often with young children, have to move almost every winter when their seasonal jobs come to an end. It's the lucky ones who get to keep their job from one season to the next, but even these frequently pay exorbitant rents for what residents in the UK would call a hovel. They get charged over the odds for their electricity and often live in old tourist accommodation that's no longer fit for purpose. So, the owners of such properties let them to foreign workers who have little option but to accept a place where the bathroom floor is perpetually wet and the sockets are hanging out of the walls. They often don't have what civilised people would call a kitchen, usually making do with a gas bottle and one of those duel gas-ring contraptions that British people would use when they go camping. The wardrobes, if they even exist, have doors that are hanging off the hinges and the gaps under the exterior doors allow gale force winds to blow across the floors on cold winter days and nights. 

Thus, lots of Albanians we've known have moved house even in the same area perhaps three times in five years, always searching for somewhere in better repair and where they won't pay a small fortune for their electricity.

Our friends, like I said, have three children. These have grown up in Greece and to all intents and purposes feel Greek. They are part of the Greek system and have Greek ID cards. These young folk prefer to converse in Greek than in their parents' mother tongue. Kids are often more adaptable than grownups, after all.

Yet, owing to the ever increasing numbers coming here in search of work, it's getting harder for them all. Other Albanian friends of ours only recently had three cousins staying with them who'd arrived from Italy, hoping to get work here on Rhodes and settle here. Finding somewhere to live even if they do find work will be a huge challenge.

There are Greeks, perhaps influenced by the extreme right party Golden Dawn, who hate the Albanians being here. These, though, forget that a couple of decades ago they were only too pleased to welcome them, since they were willing to work at menial jobs that the Greeks didn't want to descend to. Now, with all the economic woes that have afflicted the country in the last few years, they suddenly accuse foreigners of stealing jobs from the Greeks.

Our friends, after well over a decade in Greece, both on Crete and latterly here on Rhodes, have reached a huge watershed in their lives. The father lost his job part way through the season last year, of course walking away with several months' wages owing him as well, which is also far from a rare occurrence here, and he's been getting more and more depressed ever since. Both he and his wife speak pretty good Greek after all these years and by and large like it here. But they're now having to move to Germany. That means another new language to learn, a new climate to adjust to, a new governmental 'system' to learn about and the jobs that they hope to be going to are as meat packers in a sausage factory. Here, although her husband hasn't had work for a while, the mother/wife has been working in a hotel that's amazingly allowed her to have Sundays off all through the season, which is extremely rare here. But she's having to give that up because they don't want to be separated, with the father living indefinitely in Germany and the wife and children here in Greece. Not to be forgotten will be the challenge of adjusting to the climate too.

Two fifteen year olds and an eleven year old will be faced with entering a school system in which they don't speak the language. They're on the move again because they have no choice. Such is the lot for so many people from Albania in this modern world. What's really gut-wrenching for such folk too is the fact that they all have nice houses back home in Albania. Several of the Albanian couples that we know have shown us their photos of their houses back home. They have gardens around them, with fruit trees and with bougainvillea growing up their pergolas. But they can't go back because there is no means of living if they do.

I read recently (again, as it happens) that the five most stressful things that can happen to someone in life are as follows:

    • Death of a loved one.
    • Divorce.
    • Moving.
    • Major illness or injury.
    • Job loss.

Note that not one, but two of the above apply to these poor unfortunate reluctant itinerants. Imagine the stress they suffer and the long-term effects of such. Long-term stress sufferers aren't always aware of the effects of such things until later in life, when they succumb to all kinds of physical, even psychological ailments.

So, as we bade farewell to our friends amid much hugging and shedding of tears a few evenings ago, I found myself contemplating just how fortunate me and my beloved really are. We aren't faced with a 2000 kilometre journey into the unknown, at least not unwillingly. We could always retrace our way back to our heritage and roots were we to wish to do so. Quite how it must feel for whole families to have to re-locate half-way across Europe just to find ways of making ends meet is something we'll never experience. To live with the thought that there is no way of knowing if you'll ever be able to go home must be immensely depressing, hugely distressing.

Yet, still when we visit others of our Albanian (even Bulgarian for that matter) friends, they are happy, they laugh, they make us a meal of delicious home cooking in what could never be described as a kitchen, and we sit and enjoy their company while they smile and pour us a glass of cheap wine. They toil over (those who are lucky enough to have it) a vegetable patch and won't let us leave without picking us a carrier bag full of peppers, onions, aubergines and tomatoes. In short, they cheer us up.

Count your blessings folks. That's what we did yesterday as we took a dip in the sea on a wonderfully deserted Glystra Beach. 

There are so many people who are hard put to find any in their lives to count at all. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Talking Weather and Stuff

It's been a mixed bag weather-wise this past few days, mainly sunny, but with one murky, misty, moody day and a couple of chilly nights. Plus, the day before yesterday brought the first truly chilly wind we've had this winter, and a strong one at that. 

So I'm just going to post a few photos from this past week and comment on them individually. Hope you like them...

This one's from last Saturday, December 2nd, on the beach just a little way south of Gennadi, looking northwards. It was mild, around 18ºC.

This is home, taken from the wooden hillside across the valley from the house. This was somewhere around 5.00pm on Monday 4th. It was a murky, misty day...

Looking south towards Gennadi from not far over the hill from the previous shot. Moody sun rays penetrating some quite dense cloud cover.
Similar position to the one above, only from down among the trees on the hillside with the zoom employed slightly. A Wuthering Heights kind of day. Not particularly cold, but clammy.

Freshly picked roses from the garden. Even from there, a few feet away, their aroma is superb. The roses are coming into their own again at the moment. A couple more months and then we'll prune them hard before next year's growth begins in earnest. Meanwhile, fresh roses for the lounge every day.

Last night, coming back from Rhodes late, got to Lardos around 10.00pm so we dropped by the excellent Savvas Grill for a couple of Halloumi pitas with a helping of oven potatoes too. The tzaki was roaring away in the corner invitingly. It's worth having cold winter nights just to see and feel this.

My better half reaches for her halloumi pita, while the plate in the middle is the oven-potatoes (no, it's NOT pickled onions!), which were mini-spuds done in their jackets. The better half meant to ask Savvas' wife how she does them, because they're scrumptious, but then forgot all about it. Once again excellent value. You can sit at a comfy table, order a couple of pitas, a tonic and a Fix, plus oven potatoes and all for the princely sum of €10. It's a meal fit for a king for not much more than you'd pay for a couple of coffees in some café/bars in town.

The day before yesterday was the first day this winter when we didn't much feel like doing anything outside. It was still bright and sunny, but with a chilly north wind. Yesterday was much nicer, with wall-to-wall sunshine and around 19ºC on our terrace.

We walked down to the local Sofos supermarket, where we got talking with Maria on the till. Maria's family owns the store and Maria herself used to live in Canada. She's one of those who likes to use her English because, as is the case with another friend of ours in Kalathos, Lena, who also moved back here from Canada, if you don't use it you lose it. She stood up from behind the register and gave us both a kiss on both cheeks and we were soon nattering not only with her but with an Englishwoman who's not long moved out here (yes, they are still coming folks!).

Alison was very friendly and we did remember that we'd spoken briefly with her before, since she lives next door to a long-time friend of ours in Pilona. The day was all sunshine and the light was crisp and humidity-free. We all found ourselves expressing the reasons why we love living here. The main conclusion that we came to was, despite all of us having lived in a modern, urban world in either the UK or Canada, the simple life with 300 days of sunshine per year here in the Dodecanese was much better for the soul.

Yes, we live on a basic diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, virtually all eaten in its correct season, and we curse our internet connections sometimes for not being as fast as they should be. Yes we get power cuts now and then and yet, gathering your own wood for the log-burner or, as Alison remarked, going down to the beach on a bright, winter's day when there are no sun loungers and umbrellas to be seen, and simply sitting there and looking at the ocean, well - quite simply it's therapeutic, it's cathartic and it's downright pleasurable. Plus, your neighbours usually have time for a chat.

For us the winters are too short. Mind you, that's partly because in my case, half of it is usually spent banging away at my keyboard writing a new book. The latest novel is now up to around 50,000 words by the way. So actually I'm ahead of where I was this time last year with 'A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree'. But I have to break off most days for a walk with the beloved in the olive groves behind the house, or sometimes down to the beach, as it would be criminal not to. Plus, doing the walks at the end of the afternoon, we almost always get to see some deer, which is a fab bonus!

I have now started a page on the official web site dedicated to the forthcoming novel. If you're interested at all, you can click here. I shall be expanding it as and when I get time, but right now? Well...

It's past 3.30am, so I reckon it's time to go to bed, don't you?

Monday, 4 December 2017

Ssh, Don't Tell Anyone, but...

I may have mentioned this before, but Greek people can't say 'sh'. If you hadn't noticed it before, you will now. It can be off-putting, but it's usually simply curiously amusing. When you see a TV advert or roadside hoarding for example, talking about a sale, the strap-lines are often transliterations from the English. Thus, a very popular phrase that gets used rather a lot is "Price Shock!", or they'll put the word 'price' in Greek and the word 'shock' transliterated from the English, so it'll usually read...

SOK TIMES!  Look...

Borrowed from the website of B. Pantazis. Thanks!

More often than not you find yourself thinking that it's a sign about a newspaper that specialises in stories about what you wear on your feet inside your shoes, only without the 'c'. In actuality it's pronounced 'sok teemez' with the accent on the last syllable.

I have a lot of Greek friends, some of whom speak pretty good English, but if I ask Lena, for example (she who's married to Petros. They crop up in chapter 10 of the book Tzatziki For You to Say for starters), where she's going on Saturday, her reply will sometimes be, 

"We're going sopping. I need some new sooz."

Now, I think I speak Greek with a reasonably good accent. Yeah, I know that I sound foreign, but at least I do soften my consonants, which those few Brits I know who do speak some Greek just can't seem to do. The result is they'll say something like 'efdomada', when they mean 'evthomatha' (both 'th' soft, as in 'these' as opposed to 'thick'). Plus why is it that most Brits too, even though they may hear it from a Greek's mouth, will persist in pronouncing Greek words with the stress on the wrong syllable? Kalymnos is an excellent example. The island's name is KAL-ymnos, yet almost without exception Brits will persist with ka-LYM-nos, even when in conversation with a Greek who says it correctly. MoussakA is another example. Brits will usually call it mou-SAH-ka. Seems to me that it's simply a case of listening and imitating. I don't claim to be anything special, but I can copy what I hear, which can't be that difficult, can it?

Greeks speaking English do try their best, but since there is no 'sh' at all in Greek it's a tough one for them. There's also no letter J. Thus, if you write my name in Greek you have to spell it Tzan. That's another thing, they seem to have a lot of trouble with the letters o, u and a. Daffy Duck, in Greek is, for some inexplicable reason, spelt Δαφι Δακ, ie. Daffy Dak. Odd eh?

I must confess to being slightly preoccupied by all this stuff, with no intention to offend or spread malice, it's just fun, pure and simple, plus slightly strange.

Anyway, if a Greek tells you they have a 'sack', just remember, they're probably talking about a hastily hammered together building in their back yard, not something we Brits may once have had our coal delivered in. If you work in a milk bar, don't be surprised if a Greek asks you for a 'milk sake'. And if they tell you something is a 'same' they don't mean it's similar to something else. Near the sea they have a 'sore' and it's nothing to do with red patches on the skin.

There we are. Just some musings, nay ramblings. I'm off now to have a 'save', you know, put a 'sine' on my chin. 

Just watch out if you tell a Greek to sit, now, won't you. You know, when you want to watch a sow together...

Monday, 27 November 2017

Wet and Wonderful

I love my friend Mihalis, the farmer. Well, maybe not quite a farmer, but he does grow a lot of vegetables and keeps a menagerie at his house, so it would be difficult to find another way of describing him, I suppose.

It's raining hard today, plus there is thunder and lighting a crashing and a banging around in the heavy leaden sky above us. When the windows rattle, you know it's pretty close. It's one of those 'pull the antenna cable out of the back of the TV' days, sure enough. Over here it's fairly commonplace for TV antennae to be struck by lightning and, should that happen, a pretty gigantic surge of volts shoots down that cable, looking for earth of course, and can if connected, use your TV to get to ground. Result? One melted TV. Thus, when the lightning is overhead we pull out that coaxial PDQ. 

Such days always put a huge smile on Mihali's face, though. The past two winters have been much too dry and that's had all kinds of negative effects on the island. For one, the water supply has been severely hit (as you'll know if you've been reading my stuff for a while. I should get some therapy if I were you) and lots of local people have had their water cut off for hours at a time, while others have had what amounts to salt water coming out of their taps. The effect of that salty water on the plants in the garden has meant that many vegetables died and quite a lot of fruit trees and decorative plants too have either almost succumbed, or stopped producing anything. 

Then of course there has been the problem with the olive harvests. The rains are meant to start in October, thus enabling the olives to fatten up a little before harvest time begins in November. This past couple of years have seen unusually dry Octobers and thus the olives haven't fattened up as they should. This year we hear is not a good one for olives and no doubt the drought has been a major contributory factor to the situation. 

Compared to last year though, in fact to the last two years, this November is proving to be much more 'normal'. Most days are bright, sunny, clear and warm, but then we get (about once a week) a storm, accompanied by some heavy rain which the ground seems genuinely to welcome as it soaks in. The olives, although it's a little late, benefit too and the prospects of having nice potable water coming out of one's kitchen tap next year are significantly brighter. The fruit trees look happier and the vegetables in the garden are fattening up nicely.

Plus, our friend Mihalis has a broad grin on his face. As he's told me many times during November, "Gianni, it can rain every day until next April as far as I'm concerned." There speaks a true Rhodean. He doesn't hate the summer, far from it, but he does want a 'normal' winter to compensate for the months of clear, blue skies and relentless sunshine that we endure (OK, OK, substitute 'enjoy' for 'endure' if you want to) each year. Mihalis zips around the area on his battered old Vespa, head exposed to the elements, but at least his body is clad in a thick three-quarter length coat. But the rain on his face? He laps it up. Probably drinks as he drives, if you see what I mean.

He dispenses advice about our vegetables, usually (as I've said many times) involving lots of 'tutting' about where we've planted some particular vegetable and what date we put the seeds, or seedlings in. I've yet to get anything right in is eyes, but nevertheless we do end up eating something, even if it is a bit pathetic by comparison to what he grows. This year I've got some curly lettuce in, some broccolli and we still have our one and only aubergine plant supplying us with a few fruit each week. 

We bought some chicken manure in big sacks a while back and thought we'd score a few points by telling him about it. After all, we'd heard that chicken manure was a nice, organic way to 'feed' the fruit trees and vegetables. Oh dear.

After I'd enthusiastically told him about this, his response was the regulation frown, followed by a 'tch' and that slight nodding of the head backwards (which equates to a British shake from side to side, of course) and the comment:

"Oh, Gianni. Don't buy that stuff. You don't know where it's come from. Could be battery chickens, fed on antibiotics and all that stuff. Haven't I told you? Get a few chickens of your own. They don't cost much and you can soon knock together a coup and a chicken run. Plus you'll have your own eggs." For someone like Mihalis, to have the size of garden that we have around us makes it a serious oversight not to have it populated with chickens, ducks and maybe the odd piglet or two. Such a waste.

Never mind, eating a little humble pie always works. He'll turn up with a bag of oranges and a few fresh eggs imminently, I've no doubt. Plus, as long as we keep getting the rains for a day or two every week, he'll be wearing that rare smile, the one we haven't seen so much of for the past couple of winters.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Newsy or What?

There's been lots to talk about in the last few days and most of it good. Wow, there's a first!

One has been the weather. Now, I know that many reading this will be wondering how we've coped with the terrible weather that much of Greece has been subjected to in the past week or so. Well, as is so often the case, it largely passed Rhodes by. Yes, last Monday we had some heavy rain, but even the local paper said it was just what the island needed and it was certainly nothing like the deluge that hit the mainland and even the island of Symi, just a few nautical miles north from us. Incidentally, regarding what happened there, please take a look at the piece entitled "Support For Symi" on my "News and Stuff" page. Thank you.

Here in Rhodes though, the weather during this past week has been simply a joy. It's been around 23-25ºC during the days with just the occasional bout of cloudiness. In fact, we're rather hoping for some rain in this next couple of days. Once or twice a week during winter would be just what the weather-doctor ordered. The café-bars have been a delight to sit in...

The Galaxy Internet Café in Arhangelos, where knots of young folk sit around and revel in the seemingly endless amount of free time they now have after six or seven months of waiting tables or working in hotels etc. Time now to pose with a vengeance.

Zucchero Café, next door to the Flevaris supermarket just outside of Kalathos. It's the middle of November, I keep reminding myself.

When we first moved here in 2005, the bloke who built the house had a favourite expression. Well, he had several and most of them not too popular with the locals. One he'd often come out with if for any reason he decided that he'd been let down or disappointed in any way was, "How do you know when a Greek is lying? His lips are moving."

Now, I'm a Grecophile (or, if you prefer, a Hellenophile, whatever), but that doesn't mean I'm blind to some of the cultural mores that sometimes we foreigners find odd, or hard to come to terms with. For example Greeks will often tell porkies with no malicious intent, it's just the expedient way to progress with a situation, in their view. Ask the electrician when he's coming and he'll say for example, "Tomorrow." Now, he probably knows full well that tomorrow he's got something planned, but for the time being it gets you off his back and for the present everyone's happy. When he turns up four days later he'll not quite understand your chagrin, after all, he came didn't he? That's not being deliberately awkward or deceptive, it's just ...well, something you have to get used to.

To show how great they can be, instead of griping (as so many ex-pats seem to, even though they wouldn't dream of moving back to the UK) I'll proceed to give two shining examples of kindness and helpfulness that I've experienced in just this last week. 

Firstly, in the new year there will probably be another "Help For Health Gennadi" event (see this post from February 2016 and this page on Facebook) to raise money for supplies for the local doctor's surgery in nearby Gennadi. Last year, as I stood and talked with Dimitri, one of the local businessmen who's really taken up the baton of this event and thrown his enthusiasm into it, while he cooked souvlaki...

The man himself (Dimitri, who runs the very cosy Summer Breeze Hotel in the village)
...he suggested we have a banner made to show passers-by what the event was all about, since even with the grapevine in the village, many residents still weren't sure what they were seeing as they walked past. Since my career has been as a graphic designer, I said I'd prepare some artwork and see if I could get a local sign/print company to produce a banner for us for free, in return for which we'd of course agree to them placing their logo on it. I duly approached three major companies on the island with a request as to whether they'd be prepared to help us out, either by producing the banner F.O.C. or at a discount perhaps.

The first company (which advertises all the time on local radio), whose office I visited in person, could only offer us a discount, but wouldn't produce a two metre-wide vinyl banner for free. The second company I approached by email and they didn't even bother to reply. The third, who I'd also approached initially by email, came back to me within a day with an offer to produce it for nothing, as long as we'd agree to them putting their logo on it, which I'd already suggested would be fine with us. They're called Hedera and had produced a few signs for me many years ago. In fact, if you take a peek at my "Play, Eat, Visit" page and scroll down to the Dino's Boats sign, that was the one they did for me. Of course, that was a commercial venture for a friend and they were paid for the job, but even then I was impressed by their professionalism.

Within another 24 hours they'd submitted their amended version of the artwork to me for our approval and commissioned the production of the banner. Now I call that a result. This is what they're going to fabricate for us in vinyl banner form...

In fact, I really like their splash of colour and I think it'll go a long way to adding to the sign's optical appeal. Anyway, Maria, the girl with whom I've been communicating at the company has been helpfulness personified and I have nothing but praise for both her and the company.

Secondly, Our router stopped working last Monday lunchtime. It just packed in and the first thing I did was to call the neighbours up the hill to see if they'd lost internet too, because there have been occasions where it's been a problem with the line somewhere further down the valley. Both of our only two neighbours replied that theirs was working fine, so there was nothing for it but to call OTE, the Greek equivalent of BT in the UK. I wasn't waiting long before I was talking to a techno-bod who ran a few tests on the line and said it checked out OK. He told me that he'd put in a request for local engineers to check the situation out and that they'd be on it and have it fixed within 24 hours. Fortunately, I'd kept my old router when we'd ordered the new one earlier this summer. I'd done this for exactly such a situation. I really didn't want to have a router blow up on us and be without internet until a new one could arrive in the post. I wanted a back-up because I not only write a lot but still do business with a couple of my graphic design clients back in the UK, who get instant reaction from me to their requirement and are used to it being that way.

So, the next morning, bright and early I received a phone call from the OTE engineer, who assured me that, yes, it was the router that had gone down, because the line checked out as OK. "Do you want me to order one to be sent to you in the mail, or would you like to be able to visit the local Germanos store and collect a new one from there?" he asked me.

I elected to visit the store, because there is one in Arhangelos, about twenty minutes up the road from us, and I knew that if I had one sent out, there would be the issue of having to send the broken one back and all the rigmarole that would have entailed. 

"No problem," said the engineer, "I'll do the paperwork now and you'll be able to drop into Germanos in the next couple of days and collect a new one, plus deposit the failed one for return."

I thanked him, put the phone down and patted myself on the back (did I tell you I'm double-jointed?) for having had the insight to order a new router so I could keep a spare, ie. the old one. With the old one back on the system and the internet working, we were able to leave it until we had the time, which proved to be yesterday (Saturday), before dropping into the Germanos store for the exchange of routers.

So, with the better half installed in a café and ordering a couple of frappés, in I strolled to the Germanos store, with the new-but-failed router all boxed up and ready for the exchange. There were two girls in there and no other customers. Yippee. One of the girls instantly asked me what I wanted and I explained, full of confidence (idiot alert!) that they should have the job on their system which involved them giving me a replacement router. She asked me for our home phone number, tapped it into her keyboard while staring at her screen and then there began a kind of silence. You know, the kind that says, "This ain't goin' so good."

"Hmm," she said, "nothing showing here. Maybe you are too soon."
"Uh? Oh, no." I replied, "The engineer and I talked last Tuesday morning and he told me that within 48 hours I'd be able to come in for it." 

"Well, I can't give you a router if we have no job ticket on the system." She replied. 

Resisting the urge both to scream and to start a rant, I told her, "The thing is, I live in Kiotari, it's not like you're that close to home. What am I supposed to do? It'll mean another trip up here when I get it sorted with the engineers." What's really galling at this point is, that if you stand in a Germanos store, you'll see a dozen or so of these routers all boxed up and waiting to be found good homes.

"Hold on," She said, "I'll call 13888 (The OTE customer help line) myself and see if I can find anything out." That girl tried for ten minutes to get through and failed. Putting the phone down she said. "Look, tell you what. I'll do the exchange, and you take a new router home, but you'll need to call 13888 in the next few days and be sure that they send the job ticket through the system. If you don't you may get charged €50. How's that?"

Now I'd call that another result. That girl went above and beyond in order to help me out. No worries too, that tomorrow morning (Monday) I'll be on the phone to OTE and they'll be in no doubt that this local engineer needs a kick up the backside as there's no way I'll be paying €50 because he forgot to process my job ticket.

Either way, two things happened just this past week that to me puts the locals in a very good light. OK, so the engineer is a plonker, but I'll soon sort that out. But the Hedera and Germanos girls saved the day.

You know it's November when...

Straight from the tree, well, the mandarins anyway.

Plus, everywhere you go at this time of the year you see sights like these...

You know what I like? I like, or probably I should say 'love' ,the smell of freshly harvested olives. Lucky as we are to live in close proximity to lots of olive groves, when we walk the lanes, which we've done this afternoon to start collecting wood in anticipation of soon lighting up the logburning stove, that damp, pungent smell that always fills the air in rural areas at this time of the year leaves one in no doubt as to the fact the the olive harvest is under way.

Everywhere you go you see pickups and cars parked in all kinds of unlikely places, anywhere where it's only a few metres to the nearest olive trees. Look among the trees and you'll see folk spreading nets, carrying heavy crates or sacks to be piled on to the backs of the pickups, you'll see those portable generators and those long hairbrush-looking agitators on poles that they use to shake the upper branches in order to get those delicious, precious, miraculous elliptical balls to tumble to the ground. You smell the freshly cut boughs of the quite beautiful olive wood that can be fed into your fire during its very first winter owing to the fact that it doesn't contain sap like the pine and burns longer too. You spot herds of inquisitive and expectant goats, hanging around the periphery, awaiting their chance to get in there and sample some of the leftovers and leaves on the culled branches and boughs. It's normally a family affair and, if you go to the mill, you see men who've known each other for decades chewing the fat over how good, bad or average this year's crop is. It is the rhythm of the seasons taking place before one's eyes and it is good.

Oh, yes, I can wax lyrical when I want to.

The beaches are now empty too. We've been intent on going for a 'desert island' swim for the last week or two, but have simply been too busy to make it as of now. But we still have time. The sea is easily swimmable until late December, we just need a calm morning when we haven't got a list of stuff to get done. We usually manage it at least once or twice between the end of the season and the end of the year and it's simply luxurious to have a gorgeous stretch of sandy Greek beach to yourselves. 

Well, there we are peeps, the highlights of the past week. As the seasons roll past ever more quickly, I can't help but become reflective. We're now in our thirteenth winter here. I can scarcely believe it myself. Tell you what though, all in all, it's good and it's fulfilling to be so close to nature. We've been watching the deer and the hares, the buzzards and blackbirds, the robins and the black redstarts all going about their business. Nature seems to exult in the cooler days with the occasional bout of rain. The valley below is turning greener by the day it seems and we've begun our almost daily walks in earnest.

As we traipsed back up the lane this afternoon, each of us with a log on our shoulders, we looked at each other and said, almost in unison - 'We really are in winter mode now, aren't we?"

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A Furry Friend For Coffee

Well, after the humdinger of a storm yesterday, today it dawned clear and bright and blue, which is par for the course ...of course. Since the day stretched before us like a naughty hooky day off school, we decided that a good walk was in order. After a pretty busy summer, having quite a lot of days off together each week is still a novelty at this time of the year.

We'd seen from the forecast that some pretty wild weather was on its way for yesterday (Monday 13th), so on Sunday I trolled off down the lane with my trusty spade to cut a few run-offs for the water that gathers on the lane's surface. It's a kilometre long and has a couple of spots where the water can gather and become a temporary lake after a heavy downpour. Cue sticky mud patches that seriously gunge up your car's wheel arches. I was eager to see, since it had rained torrentially at times yesterday, if my efforts had paid off. Often the temporary lakes can take days to dry up, always assuming that the next storm doesn't come too soon. Walking the length of the lane we were amazed and excited to see no standing water at all - a result! Plus, whereas in times past a torrential storm would have cut gullies across the lane deep enough for your wheels to drop so far into that the car can 'bottom' if you're not careful, our previous efforts from last spring of filling the 'gullies' with gravel has also worked, leaving the lane easily negotiable for a regular car, which ours is. Right, with that out of the way we set off along the coast road with a view to reaching Glystra Beach, which takes about an hour at a normal walking pace.

We hadn't gone a quarter of the way, which meant we were walking past the Rodos Princess hotel, when we realised that we'd underestimated the temperature. We'd both decided before setting out that we ought to wear long trousers, which turned out to have been a mistake. We were both too hot! It reached about 24ºC and, in the sun, felt considerably hotter. We'd planned anyway to stop at the Blue Dreams coffee bar en route, and we were pretty glad to reach it at around 12.15pm, well ready for a frappé and some shade.

The Blue Dreams can be pretty lively in the evenings, especially during the season, but in the day time it's a very acceptable laid back place for a frappé with a rather nice panoramic sea view. You get a very good Frappé there (large glass too) along with a long glass of cool water for 2€. It's about 300 metres down the road from our other favourite, the Gré café. What's also nice is that this winter they're planning to stay open, whereas in past years we've arrived there on one of our marathons à pied, only to find the place all closed up.

Now I probably haven't mentioned this yet, but our neighbour's beautiful ginger cat, Simba, went missing some three weeks ago now and all three households up here on the hill are in mourning. This whole cozy corner of our beautiful, forested valley where the three houses and gardens are situated seems somehow bereft without Simba patrolling his favourite routes around the place. We've been agonising about whether we ought to get a cat of our own and keep oscillating between the sentimental feeling of 'Yes, it would be nice to have a moggie about the place again' and the more level-headed 'Think about the responsibility, even about how we'd feel if this one too were to go missing and put us through the emotional mill again.'

So there we were, just about to enjoy our newly-arrived frappés, when someone else arrived too...

Nice warm fur collar...

Oh, NOW look what you've done...
Maria, who runs the bar along with her brother, told us that this little chap appeared as soon as the season ended, which happens a lot. They get fed, either by the staff of nearby establishments that close down for the winter, or by successive tourists staying in the area. Once those benefactors are gone, cats like this nice little fellow soon see the need to go looking for another source of sustenance, since they've been domesticated by now by the well-meaning but ever-so-slightly misguided seasonal visitors.

He looked to be in pretty good condition and was exceptionally affectionate. Even after Maria's brother came and took him away to give us the chance to sip our frappés in peace, he soon found his way back to our table and was once again climbing on to our shoulders and rubbing his face against our ears. We were wavering I have to admit. Especially when Maria and her brother said, "Take him home if you like." Well, frankly it would have been impractical at that precise moment, since we were a few kilometres from home and on foot. But I may well be back there with the car and a cardboard box yet...

Maria came and had a long chat with us while we sipped. She's a very attractive and intelligent woman who looks nowhere near her years, since she has two grown-up daughters. Maybe it's being the age that I am, but to me she could have been 35. She was well pleased when I mentioned that too. Charm? C'mon guys, I wrote the book.

We talked about the season's work, the olive harvest and growing vegetables. Even though she is every inch a modern-looking woman, she learned from her mother and grandparents the art of growing all her vegetables from seed. She grows tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, water melon, honeydew melon and onions, all by drying out the seeds from one year's crop and planting them up for the next. Her family is from Asklipio, where we go to collect our mail. We talked too about the new hotels being built along the coastal plain by a local Asklipian businessman who doubtless has a serious shilling or two, since he already owns a clutch of swish hotels in the area. I have to confess to holding quite strong views about all-inclusive, yet she could only see the positives. She said that [figuratively or literally] the entire village has found work on the construction projects and many will also be employed once the hotels open for business. 

All-inclusive may have some pretty serious flaws when it comes to local businesses and their chances of survival, but there's no getting away from the fact that there are now 5 café/bars between the area where the Sofos supermarket is situated, down towards Gennadi, and the Blue Dreams itself. When we first moved here in 2005 there was only one. Also, despite the fact that many all-inclusive guests eat 'in' most of the time, the more there are in the area, the more there are who decide that enough is enough of the same faces and the same food every night, so they go out and hang the expense. Thus there are 11 restaurants in the stretch of both the main and coast roads from Angelaki's Taverna and the Lighthouse toward Gennadi to the south and the Mourella, not far from the Princess Andriana hotel toward the north end of the Kiotari area.

Thus, it was pretty difficult to get on one's high horse when Maria was talking about such things and their effect on the locals right here. Of course, there are other areas (Kolymbia, for example) where it's a completely different story.

Anyway, after a pleasant chat that lasted for half an hour or so we were set to continue with the walk. Only, we didn't. Looking across the table at each other we both concluded that the best direction from here was home. By the time we got back, which was around 2.30pm, we were well ready for one of my signature tomato and onion salads (with the statutary cold beer of course) and a few slices of my better half's delicious, nutty homemade brown bread. We'd still walked around four miles by the time we came in through the front gate and both in need of a good cool shower.

It's November 14th, it's 24ºC, it's nice living on Rhodes.